Comments On “National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Research and Development (R&D) Plan”

2019-02-13T14:38:43+00:00 February 8, 2019|

February 8, 2019

Dear NOAA Research Council:

On behalf of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, which represents our nation’s leading ocean science, research, and technology organizations from academia, industry, and aquariums, I appreciate the opportunity to provide comments for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Research and Development (R&D) Plan, which is set for release in 2019. NOAA R&D plays a critical role in our nation – strengthening our national and homeland security; underpinning our economy; and ensuring food, water, and energy security. The idea that our securities – national, homeland, economic, food, energy, and water, as well as human health – are dependent on a secure, prosperous, well-understood ocean is a concept I refer to as ocean security. Key to this is the role of ocean science and technology – and therefore R&D – in helping us better understand our ocean. NOAA’s R&D investments in areas that strengthen our ocean security, such as increased ocean observations and access, research related to offshore finfish aquaculture, integration of new and evolving technologies, and enhanced partnerships, will benefit our nation as a whole and address the societal demands outlined in NOAA’s 20-Year Research Vision.

As we move forward, it’s important the agency both continue to take steps to embrace opportunities to expand our knowledge toward resolving problems we face and make progress toward an ocean that is healthy and prosperous as it continues to support humanity and all other life on our planet. The three proposed vision areas for the next R&D plan: (1) reduced societal impacts from severe weather and other environmental phenomena; (2) sustainable use of ocean and coastal resources; and (3) a robust and effective research, development, and transition enterprise, do both. I’d like to highlight a few areas that should be specifically called out in these vision areas as these topics are refined and goals, questions, objectives, and targets are identified.

Reduced Societal Impacts from Severe Weather and Other Environmental Phenomena
Elevate Ocean Phenomena and Include Opportunities to Increase Collection and Accessibility of Ocean Observations

While ocean concerns are certainly included in environmental phenomena as a vision topic, ocean concerns don’t come across as strongly as they should, given the ongoing and anticipated impacts of ocean issues, such as harmful algal blooms, coastal erosion, ocean acidification, coral reef degradation, and more. I suggest that ocean-specific issues along these lines be elevated and highlighted in any overarching vision or strategic objectives.

We cannot talk about reducing the impacts from severe weather without better observing, understanding, and predicting the driver of weather and climate – the ocean. Greater knowledge of the ocean’s interrelated systems is also vital for understanding marine biodiversity, ocean and coastal ecosystems, climate change, and ocean phenomena such as harmful algal blooms. Coordinated networks of people and tools (including buoys, gliders, satellites, ships, sensors, drones, AUVs, and super computers) provide scientists, decisionmakers, and citizens with this information to predict changing ocean and atmospheric conditions, and in turn reduce the associated societal impacts. However, these data are only helpful if accessible, so R&D efforts should go towards not only increasing ocean observations but to making these data repositories accessible to everyone. NOAA’s Digital Coast project, which compiles and curates information from hundreds of private organizations, academic institutions, and government agencies to make robust data on the nation’s coasts readily accessible in a timely manner, even providing accessibility to communities that lack the resources to gather the data themselves, is a good example of this type of data repository.

Sustainable Use of Ocean and Coastal Resources
Include Opportunities for More Research and Pilot Projects Related to Offshore Finfish Aquaculture

Offshore finfish aquaculture has numerous potential benefits, ranging from blue economy growth and job creation to maximizing U.S. food safety and contributing to global hunger needs. However, any efforts to advance the offshore finfish aquaculture industry in the United States must balance rigorous, science-based environmental protections with a federal regulatory and permitting system that encourages entrepreneurial investment. As NOAA leads the world in science-based fishery management, it is only fitting that the agency position itself to do the same for offshore aquaculture. A successful, healthy, financially viable practice hinges on supporting aquaculture research, development, science, and technology. For example, improved and expanded research, testing, and implementation of methods and technologies associated with environmental monitoring and aquaculture production will help mitigate risks associated with both recirculating and open water practices and make it an economically feasible industry while ensuring the health of our ocean and its biodiversity. This research should also include providing opportunities for pilot projects to take place.

Robust and Effective Research, Development, and Transition Enterprise
Include Integration of New and Evolving Capabilities Associated with eDNA and Ocean Sound as well as Opportunities to Advance Public-Private and Interagency Partnerships

This should include the integration of new and evolving capabilities associated with environmental DNA (eDNA) and ocean sound. eDNA is a powerful emerging tool used by scientists to understand which organisms are present in a given environment without the investment and invasiveness of methods like animal capture. Federal agencies, academic institutions, and private industry are all engaged or beginning to engage with marine eDNA due to its reliability and ease of use. NOAA R&D should include efforts to rapidly develop and transition emerging sampling and analytical capabilities in existing observing activities and to support the development of best practices and common methodologies. Similarly, continued research and development of emerging capabilities to use sound, especially through increased, collaborative measurement of changes in ocean soundscapes over time, space, and frequency, will help us better understand and monitor the ocean environment. Analysis of natural and anthropogenic sound, especially when used in concert with other information (including eDNA), promise a revolution in our ability to monitor and understand the evolution of the biological, geological, chemical, and physical characteristics and processes in our ocean, as well as a better understanding of how we are currently and can in the future impact these processes, in both harmful and beneficial manners.

Ongoing ocean research and technology partnerships are the backbone of the nation’s ocean prosperity. Cross-sector and interagency collaboration facilitate the sharing of information, observations, technology, and best practices and allow the tens of thousands of organizations in the ocean science community to identify and address pressing research questions. An existing mechanism to help advance the collaborative efforts of this vision is the congressionally mandated National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP). NOPP has been responsible for many successful ocean science initiatives since its inception and is an ideal vehicle to facilitate the successes of projects with broad support from leaders in all sectors of ocean science and innovation. Interdisciplinary R&D that includes multiple stakeholders and takes advantage of NOPP’s partnership opportunities will only advance NOAA’s R&D enterprise.

Thank you again for the opportunity to provide comments on the upcoming R&D plan and to help guide NOAA’s scientific enterprise. I would be happy to meet with NOAA leadership, including the Research Council, to discuss in more detail any of these topics. I deeply appreciate the work of NOAA in advancing our nation’s ocean security, and I look forward to seeing the agency’s plans for the next five years.


Jonathan W. White, RADM (Ret.), USN
President and CEO
Consortium for Ocean Leadership

Read the full letter here.